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Mark Shields: Sex Scandals, and the Powerful Waging War on the Weak

The story is as timeless as it is ugly. The names of the actors change, but the plot remains the same.

The powerful — whether the undocumented maid’s employer, the factory owner who signs the teenage worker’s paycheck or the producer who can cast an aspiring actress — are in control, and the weak are, too often, at their mercy.

Henry Kissinger was wrong when he said, “Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.” No, instead of being some magical love potion, power has too often been some bulletproof E-ZPass for the powerful, admitting them to the private club of entitlement, where they can sexually exploit less powerful human beings who lack the resources or the status or the self-confidence to stop such abuse.

Power has been the powerful’s get-out-of-jail-free card.

Power has been almost always male. But not always, as I wrote some 36 years in The Washington Post: “The Boss was famous, influential, rich and married. The young woman was none of the above and 23 when she became the Boss’ secretary and lover (some nine years earlier). ... There were trips, and there were gifts, and whether there were legally enforceable promises, made by the Boss, may be decided in a courtroom. That’s where Marilyn Barnett is seeking financial support from her married ex-lover and ex-boss, Billie Jean King.”

King denied the relationship, stonewalling and calling the allegations “untrue and unfounded.” The introduction by Barnett’s lawyer of 100 love letters from the Boss to her secretary-lover required an abrupt change of strategy, which led to a news conference where, surrounded by spouse and family, the Boss admitted, “I made a mistake.”

That was all The New York Times’ editorial page needed to praise her style: “True to form, Mrs. King stormed the net and took the offensive.” Tennis’ most respected analyst, Bud Collins, rhapsodized that King was “an American heroine if ever there was one” and that she had “never run from the truth.”

Sisterhood has not always been powerful in these cases. A sexually exploiting or even abusive male politician is often given a pass if he has the “right” (ardently pro-choice) position on abortion rights.

That certainly seemed to be the litmus test for liberal feminists when President Bill Clinton, over several months, misled the nation in what University of Wisconsin historian Charles Jones accurately called “a compound and structured lie” about his adulterous relations in the White House with a 22-year-old college intern, Monica Lewinsky.

In the current U.S. Senate race in Alabama — where the Republican nominee, Roy Moore, has been believably charged with harassing, as a 30-something lawyer and district attorney, and sexually molesting young high school girls — Moore’s female defenders are overwhelmingly evangelical voters who admire the judge’s moral opposition to abortion and gay rights.

Believing turns into seeing.

In private and public life, powerful narcissists often surround themselves with sycophantic enablers who are more than eager to cover up even their criminal sexual abuse and can ignore the fact that each victim is the daughter, sister, mother or wife of someone who loves her.

Change may finally be coming, but it will not arrive until we understand that these attacks have never been about sexual attraction. They are — always have been and always will be — nothing but a hateful act of war by the powerful on the weak.

Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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